Category Archives: Picture book

Burcu: No One Wants to Play with Me! by Nursen Sirin illustrated by Nese Inan

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Burcu: No One Wants to Play with Me! by Nursen Sirin illustrated by Nese Inan

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This 32 page, 9×12 story book, for ages five and up, focuses on character education and is meant to be a relatable story with clear lessons about how to behave and deal with situations in life.  The opening page bullets all the lessons readers should learn from the story and the end of the book offers directions to make a balloon craft.  

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I don’t mind books with lessons and morals so clearly delineated, and I like that the morals come from such an adorable character with a whole cast of supporters, and a number of books to her series.  

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My problem is more the story itself, for a lesson on how to make new friends, and dealing with the universal struggle of moving and feeling like ‘no one wants to play with me.”  The book spends nearly seven pages on Burcu making a surprise breakfast for her family before hearing the news that she is moving because the landlord says they should.

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They pack and move seemingly the same day, and then the point of the book gets going.  Burcu has to say goodbye to her friends and doesn’t feel like even going out at the new house to make new ones.

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Her brother, Alper, has no problem making new friends, and finally Burcu gives it a try.  Only a little girl attempts to get to know her and Burcu dismisses her because she is so young.  She tries to be included with the other children, but they don’t know her and aren’t willing to let her play.

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Burcu finally confides in her dad, that she can’t get anyone except the little girl to play with her.  Her dad encourages her to give the little girl a chance.  Burcu does and finds out they are the same age, she just looks really young, and then all the kids are friends and happy.

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The real hero to me is the little girl, Katherine, who didn’t give up on an ageist Burcu that didn’t want to play with her.  Seems odd that Burcu wanted a friend, and then was arrogant to complain about the one she got.  Plus, I would imagine kids who have moved and don’t have friends, would turn to a book like this for tips and hints, and ways to feel less alone.  The book offers none of that.  It doesn’t tell how finally Burcu makes friends, or gets included, other than it took time.  Which is great, but not exactly helpful if you are five and crying everyday because no one will play with you.

The writing is very dry.  I think it has been translated from Turkish, many of the sentences are passive voice, and the sentences choppy.  The book doesn’t have any glaring errors, it just seems like it would work as a story time, or as part of a lesson, and  maybe once as a bedtime story, but not a book that kids will clamor to hear over and over again.

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There is nothing Islamic in the story, but most of the major online Islamic bookshops carry the Burcu series, so I would imagine the authors, and publishers are Muslim.

Overall, the book sets off to teach a great lesson, but falls a bit short.  The illustrations are adorable and the large size and playful font are very well done, the diction, not so much.  The books are reasonably priced and if you see a title that works for a lesson, or theme you are discussing, I think you can make the books work.  If you are looking for a book to read over and over to your kids, you might, however, be disappointed.

 

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A Whale of A Wish by Razana Noor illustrated by Rahima Begum

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A Whale of A Wish by Razana Noor illustrated by Rahima Begum

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I’ve seen this book on Amazon countless times, and not really been interested in a Prophet story written in rhyme.  It seemed like it would be overly forced and  there’s enough slightly creepy songs out there trying to be clever in their retellings, that I never added it to my cart.  But, when Noura over at Crescent Moon Store convinced me to take a look and hooked me up, I trusted her, and am glad I was so terribly wrong.

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The story of Yunus (AS) is told from the whale’s perspective.  And shows how he always wanted to do something unique and swims around helping those in need.  He even befriends his foe, a giant squid.

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When he feels compelled to swim to the surface in the middle of the storm, Allah commands him to swallow Prophet Yunus and later commands him to return him to land.

The whale listens to Prophet Yunus praying all day and night and feels blessed to be part of Allah’s big plan.  His dua is also included at the end in english and arabic and arabic transliteration.

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The 18 page book is 8×10 inches in size and the illustrations are sweet, soft, happy and well done.  Children two and up will enjoy the story, and while it is meant for Muslim children, I believe Christian and Jewish children will recognize the story and with some oversight would enjoy it too.

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The rhyme is surprisingly not as forced as I feared.  On only one occasion the rhyme is a  stretch: squid, bit, but the meter is regular and flows easily making the story great for  story time and bedtime alike. 

 

 

Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson illustrated by Fumi Kosaka

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Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson illustrated by Fumi Kosaka

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Once again I picked up a book for the message that it explored, making a difference, and found myself smiling triumphantly when a flip of a page revealed a Muslim lady depicted in an illustration, and her culturally Islamic name gracing the page. 

The book is an AR 4.2, and while there are a lot of words on each of the 32 pages, and the concept of an act multiplying might be hard for little ones to grasp, I think patient kindergarteners and first graders will grasp enough to make the story enjoyable.

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Ordinary Mary is so very ordinary, but she changes the world.  It all starts when she leaves berries for a neighbor.  And that neighbor, Mrs. Bishop, takes the berries and makes blueberry muffins and secretly gives them to five people.

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Each of those five people in turn give or do something kind to five people and over 30 billion people are impacted.  But there are not that many people on the planet, so there is love left over and extra to give.

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The book doesn’t follow all 30 billion obviously, but it picks and follows one person to show how the chain works before showing the mathematical growth in numbers.  Mrs.  Bishop gave a plate to the paperboy Billy Parker, who handed the next five people their newspaper personally instead of tossing it in their bushes.  One of the people that got their newspaper smiled for 10 hours on his flight, and helped people with their bags, etc etc.  

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The book shows that giving something can be something tangible, or a compliment, or a phone call, or a smile.  Over long distances,  the kind deed comes back to Mary and the message too, comes full circle.

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Along the line is Sahar, a college student who’s bag breaks and she benefits from a kind man who was just gifted oranges at the grocery store when he didn’t have enough money.  She in turn compliments a woman on a boat who is distraught and unsure. An important character in the link, and an import illustration of inclusion.

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There author mentions a variety of names, male and female, and the illustrator represents a fair amount of diversity of age, color, gender, religions, socio economic, ethnicity and mobility.  Truly, we all have the potentially to change the world.

 

Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea: How a Science Project Helps One Family and the Planet by Elizabeth Suneby and Rebecca Green

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Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea: How a Science Project Helps One Family and the Planet by Elizabeth Suneby and Rebecca Green

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It is a bit odd that this story is fiction, when it reads so much like a piece of nonfiction.  It is a picture book, but has an AR level of 4th grade 4th month.  So, while the story is great and highlights a country and culture, Bangladesh, not often seen, I don’t know that this book would appeal to many kids.  The kids that it does appeal to though and that can find it in a library or bookstore (not sure where it would be shelved), I think will not just like it, but possibly find it both inspiring and worth reading again and again.

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It is monsoon season in Bangladesh and the rains make Iqbal’s mom have to cook indoors.  As a result, she and the baby, Rupa are constantly coughing from breathing all the smoke from the woodburning stove.  Iqbal’s father mentions a propane stove he saw in the market, but the family cannot afford it, despite wishing that they could. 

Iqbal’s school has just announced the School Science Fair and the winners get cash prizes, if Iqbal can win, maybe he can buy his family the new stove.  His little sister Sadia offers her services to help him win and be his assistant.

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After a lot of thinking, pondering, and dreaming, Iqbal decides on the perfect project: a stove that didn’t produce smoke.

With the help of his teacher at school to find ideas and articles and plans on the internet, Iqbal and his sister build a solar cooker with foil and an old umbrella. 

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The science fair is a success, Iqbal wins, the family buys the stove and propane with the winnings, and when it isn’t raining, the family is able to use the solar stove Iqbal and Sadia built.

The book draws on ideas of sustainability, pollution, economic viability, problem solving, and education.  The culture provides the backdrop making all of these issues relevant and real, and mentioning Ramadan, Eid, and prayer provides some depth to the characters and adds to their culture.

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A lot of reviews online criticize that the mom is cooking and that the kids test an egg on the solar cooker and call her to eat it if it is supposed to be Ramadan, but I personally promise you, during Ramadan, we are always cooking.  And if she is nursing the baby, the mom wouldn’t be required to fast, there’s a lot of other reason she couldn’t/wouldn’t be fasting, but really, it is such a small portion mentioned in passing, no detail needs to be given, and it didn’t bother me at all.

Another complaint about the book is that if money is so tight the kids wouldn’t be at a school where they can just make copies, and buy eggs on their own.  I think there is some truth to this, but maybe a wealthy doner funds the school.  I think you could argue it either way.  I don’t know that the family is poor, it is the overall society, so kids could have pocket money, a propane stove is probably imported at least from a larger city so the expense would be more, similarily the infustruction of electricity and gas lines could hint more at why they cook the way they do.  Needless to say the family is smiling in the pictures, they have food, and they seem to be doing ok.  So the fact that the school printed a few articles and the kids bought some eggs without asking permission, didn’t bother me greatly.

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The illustrations are expressive and show the family connections and emotions.  I like that they bring to life a country many wouldn’t know, even if I wish it weren’t a work of fiction, but based on some child actually there.  

The end of the book has information about clean cookstoves, how to build one yourself, and a glossary.  The large 9×12 hardbound book would hold up well to multiple readings, and the amount of text on the pages would work well as a read-a-loud to younger kids who would find the subject matter interesting.  

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Imagine by Shoohada Khanom illustrated by Faiza Benauvda and Vicky Amrullah

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A bright and colorful, well illustrated book for preschoolers to stretch their imaginations with and giggle at, while never straying too far from an Islamic concept or reference.  The book mentions something  Islamic on nearly every one of the 32 pages: dhikr, Quran, Ramadan, Prophet Yunus, salah, saying salam, Eid. 

I absolutely love the premise of the book, asking whales about Prophet Yunus, having an octopus help serve iftaar, it really is a lot of fun. The illustrations are great.  The 8.5 by 8.5 book size completely filled with colors and friendly faces, are well done and engaging.  The amount of text on the page is appropriate for the age group and the binding and weight is adequate, nothing to get excited about at a $13 price point.

The book is written in four line stanzas, but I really struggled to not get tongue-tied on nearly every page.  I think the loose rhyme is fine, it just seems really forced in some places, and non-existent in others.  And even when it isn’t forced, the rhythm is a tad off.  I read it to myself and struggled, so I scooped up my 3-year-old and tried twice to read it to him before making a final attempt to make it flow, and feeling somewhat successful.  I think part of it is me, I try to read it like I’m doing a story time, and not like a bedtime story.  But here: read this page and see if you agree.

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I think it is me, and now I’m projecting all my issues on you the reader, and this cute book, I apologize, but here’s one more.  I feel like I’m becoming a broken record when I complain about the price of books and lacking editors.  I promise I have atrocious grammar myself, and make a ton of mistakes typing these reviews, texting my friends and posting on Facebook.  I can’t even blame auto-correct half the time.  So, when I spot errors, and can’t get through a stanza in a children’s book, I get grumpy.  I paid money for this, the author spent a ton of time on it, and the illustrators too, and the publishers…maybe that is the problem.  I love the idea of small publishing companies and self publishing, but why am I once again sitting here with a beautiful children’s book in my hands shaking my head at a really silly mistake.

“I’d try climb on top of another,”

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Sigh.                                                                                                                                                               

Love by Matt de la Pena illustrated by Loren Long

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Love by Matt de la Pena illustrated by Loren Long

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This 40-page-book may have a simple title, but most of us know, there is nothing simple about love, and this book shows love in many forms from a child’s perspective as they grow.  Sometimes picture books are basic and inspired to teach, or simply entertain.  Sometimes when picture books try to do more, the audience is confused when the pictures and amount of text on page don’t seem to align.  And sometimes, large pictures, with thoughtful poetry make the pages come to life and sing.  The book is written on an AR 3.7, so people thinking this book is for preschool aged children seem to be upset by the concepts hinted at and illustrated, but for older kids, this book has amazing power, and beauty that can show just how complex this universal feeling is.  

Love is your parent’s voice, love is burnt toast, love is the stars after your house burns down, love is in your grandpa’s wrinkles, love is staring back at you in the bathroom mirror.  But sometimes love also burns out and love is shielding you from things that might hurt you, and love separates people too. 

 

As humans, we can all relate to the same emotions, whether we give and receive love the same, the book shows the value and meaning it has to us all.  Hurray for illustrator Loren Long, because page after page, shows diversity of color, mobility, socio economics, age, and religion.  On a page where the love of the child is keeping her from seeing the TV that the family is crowded around a cross is present, and then a few pages later,bam, there is a girl in hijab looking up at the trees and listening to the love shared in their rustling. 

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I had no idea this illustration was present, and gasped aloud.  I said nothing to my daughter, finished the book, and handed it to her to read.  She turned the page and gasped aloud as well saying, “there’s a muhajaba, haha, we are in it too.”  Granted she is my daughter, so environment and genes account for something, but EVERY PAGE I think resonates with someone, and that gasp in my living room from me, from her, could come from anyone who turns a page in this book and bam suddenly feels represented, feels included, feels validated.  That my friends, is LOVE. 

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We are more alike than different.

 

Little Brother for Sale by Rahma Rodaah illustrated by Fuuji Takashi

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Little Brother for Sale by Rahma Rodaah illustrated by Fuuji Takashi

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Oh how I love to read sweet books and repeatedly thumb through warm engaging illustrations.  This book is beautiful, fun, and (possibly) very relatable.

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A big sister, Asma, is ready to get rid of her little brother, Hamza, so that she can enjoy all her parent’s attention.  But when the mailman won’t let her ship him to grandma, and neither the lady walking down the street nor the neighbor next door want to buy him, she is determined to find someone to take him off her hands.  Alas though, it is Hamza’s nap time and while mom makes salat Asma finally gets some time to herself.

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Except she misses having someone sharpen her crayons, or eat the blueberries she doesn’t like, and there is no one to dance with her around the living room.  She decides that maybe she does like her little brother, and lays down next to him with promises of loving and protecting him forever.  Ahhh…..

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Yeah, the book is pretty predictable, but the details make it charming.  I love the diverse characters and the love and warmth they all exude.  I love that when she drags her brother out in the wagon and holds up the for sale sign, mom is peeking out from the kitchen.  I reassured myself that she was there, so it was ok for Asma to be talking to the mail man, a potential stranger, and the lady walking down the street, muslimah or not. 

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The only slight hiccup to me was what one-year-old, he was seemingly taking his first steps in the first picture, can sharpen crayons? Maybe I just failed to prepare my children, but other than that, the book is smooth, and well done.

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The binding quality, the font, the amount of text on the 26 pages, is definitely preschool to first or second grade, and the illustrations will mesmerize even toddlers who won’t understand why the book is so silly. 

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The book has been floating around my house and I’ve seen my 11 year old pick it up and read it on her own, and then read it to the three year old mutltiple times.  She possibly was getting ideas, but maybe it also reminds us that siblings really can be both annoying and lovely as well.

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